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Shouldn't Government Be Accountable, Too?

For many years, the main focus of educational policy in the U.S. has been on accountability for students, for school and district leaders, and, increasingly, for teachers. Perhaps the most important form of accountability, however, is accountability of federal, state, and local governments to see that schools have the wherewithal to ensure maximum achievement. But what are governments doing to set up students, teachers, and school leaders up for success?

Beyond basic financial accountability for salaries, buildings, books, and busses, government has the responsibility to see that educators have access to effective programs, professional development, and materials. At the very least, government should evaluate programs and materials and make the outcomes widely known. Government is right for this role because no other entity is likely to support rigorous evaluations of promising programs, comparing outcomes for students who experience particular interventions to those who do not. And no entity other than the government can set a high standard for the effectiveness of programs that are adopted.

No matter how effective a program may be, there will still be a range of performance among educators implementing the program, and there will always be individual schools or teachers who do a very poor job with their children no matter which program they use. For this reason, there will always be a need to have some form of school-level accountability.

However, it is only fair for government to hold itself accountable for enabling educators to leverage their best efforts, so that educators doing their best work make ever-increasing impacts on their students' achievement. A key part of this accountability should be to provide educators with a range of effective programs as well as reliable information on their outcomes. The military, for example, is always working to improve the weapons and tactics provided to soldiers. Various arms of the government provide vast funding to develop and evaluate medical treatments to leverage the effectiveness of physicians and hospitals. Why should government not do the same in education, to leverage the effectiveness of educators by supporting the creation, evaluation, and effective implementation of programs and materials proven to improve achievement?

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